Something to read for the weekend.
The Car Keys.
There are rare December days in Britain when a mellow sun, hanging low in an almost cloudless, pastel blue sky, radiates a warming, yellow glow upon the winter landscape.
"Today", thought Sally, as she turned in to the Sainsbury's supermarket on Purley Way, Croydon, parked and switched off her windscreen wipers, "Is decidedly not one of them."
As she got out of her car, she deftly lifted the locking button of the back door, pushed down the lock button on her own driver's door and, still holding the handle, pushed it shut. Then, opening the back door, she unfolded a push chair and slipped her son of eleven months into it before hurrying through the gentle drizzle and into the protective maw of the main entrance, gaudily hung with festive tinsel and baubles and stocked with shopping trolleys. She didn't even notice the tramp fifty yards away to her left as he went about his obscure business amongst the huge bins and bottle banks.
Later, Sally emerged from the barrage of special, pre-Christmas offers pushing a half loaded trolley, her son, Jamie, very happily ensconsed in the trolley’s special seat and, with the folded pushchair projecting ahead like the bowsprit of some proud sailing ship, returned to her faithful old banger of a car.
"At least the rain has stopped," she contemplated as she unlocked the passenger door and, temporarily placing Jamie on the front seat, shut the door and pushed the trolley to the car boot.
"Damn!" She muttered as she remembered she'd left the keys on the passenger seat with Jamie and went to retrieve them.
"Oh Hell!" She cried out loud as, to her horror, she realised she had automatically pushed down the button and held the handle to lock the door, without thinking.
Frantically, she considered her options. Her husband had a spare set of keys for her car, just as she had for his, but he had left for Southampton that morning on a business visit and wouldn't be home until late the next day. In fact, although she loved him dearly, Sally had been looking forward to spending a night without him, doing her own thing.
"Can I help?"
She looked round, startled, into a pair of genuinely concerned eyes and a handsome face that radiated suppressed humour.
"I'll be right back," he interrupted, almost before Sally had started to explain the problem and she saw him open the tailgate of a nearby, almost new, estate car, rummage about and return with a small assortment of tools. After carefully wrapping a piece of cloth around a screwdriver, to avoid chipping the aging paintwork of her car, he inserted it high up on the door and gently levered it out a little, watched by a fascinated Jamie and a small group of the idle and curious. He pulled a funny face for Jamie then, turning to Sally, smilingly explained,
"I need to find a piece of wire so that I can slide it down through that gap I've created and try to catch the locking button."
"I've got a wire coat hanger on the dry cleaning I've just collected," said a spectator. "I'll get it from my car."
Soon, watched intently by an ever increasing crowd, Sally's new-found friend was jiggling a criminally modified coat hanger in the region of the locking button. As she watched him dexterously twist the wire, his handsome face a mask of concentration, Sally felt strongly drawn to him, this knight in shining armour who had come, unbidden, to her rescue. Fleetingly, she wondered what he'd be like as a clandestine lover, paying court each time her husband was away.
Jamie was overjoyed. The nice man wanted to play with him.
At last! Success! He finally caught the dangling end of the wire and attempted to suck it.
Ten minutes later, a nervous duty manager, seeing the crowd in the car park, dialed the police to report his suspicions.
That popular TV series, "The Bill", uses Croydon as a real-life set for many episodes. As it parked on the fringe of the crowd, the police car, with its politically correct complement of one male (type IC3) and one female (type IC1) was so realistic that some spectators thought they were going to be on “the telly” and started to look around for hidden cameras.
The lady of the law eased her way into the crowd enquiring if anyone knew the owner of the car. Quickly, Sally explained, making sure that her handsome good-samaritan was clear of any possible blame for unlawful entry. The police woman listened sympathetically and told Sally she could do nothing herself but that she would request assistance from the technical division or some such. After making a funny face for the benefit of Jamie who was beginning to weary of the game, she returned to the police car to rejoin her companion and radio for help.
Jamie started to cry. Sally felt despondent. Her shining knight with the captivating smile of thirty minutes ago was losing his lustre. She would willingly have given anything, anything at all, to be re-united with her little darling.
The old tramp had been watching, first from the bins and bottle banks and then from the fringes of the crowd. Now he shuffled forwards hesitantly, keeping a wary eye on the police car, and deferentially approached the distraught mother and crying infant. He told Sally that he thought he might be able to get into her car without damaging anything. However, he continued, if he indeed succeeded he wanted a reward for his skill.
"Don't give him any money," advised her tarnished knight, but Sally was desperate.
"Anything! Just please rescue my baby," she said, opening her handbag.
"No! I'm a man of principle. I don't want money," said the tramp. "And I only want a reward if I succeed. What about letting me have the contents of your shopping trolley, for example?"
"Whatever you say," cried Sally. "But please, if you can do it, ..." She broke off.
The tramp searched his pockets and withdrew a ladies' hairpin, bent double and about two inches long. Bending down he carefully slid it into the passenger side door lock beside Jamie, turned his back on the car and then positioned his hands behind his back. The tramp pressed his posterior against the door and began, very deliberately, to gyrate, the hairpin catching on the coarse, twilled cotton of his trousers, his hand movements blocked from view.
Sally watched, fascinated by the sensuous thigh movements as he gyrated his buttocks against the lock, his arms rhythmically moving in concert with whatever secret actions his hands were performing. The knight, standing very close beside her, was equally absorbed. Suddenly the tramp stopped, turned around, bent down, removed his hairpin from the lock and asked Sally to try the door. To her surprise and delight it opened and she eagerly snatched Jamie to her bosom as the crowd broke into a cheer and surged forward to get a better view.
Still holding Jamie, Sally turned to thank the tramp but he had vanished ... and so had her shopping.
"Ah, breast of turkey in cream and peach sauce," murmured the tramp that evening, reading from the label of Sainsbury’s new gourmet range by the light of a romantically flickering candle. "That sounds interesting."
Meticulously he placed a slim-line nappy on his lap to act as a napkin, opened the jar and dipped his finger into the purée of Sainsbury’s 'gourmet treats for very special babies'.
Yes, he thought, sucking appreciatively on his finger, it had been a good day ..... and how fortuitous that only half an hour before the lady had locked herself out of her car he had been rumaging in a bin where he had discovered, and decided to put on, these amazing "khaki" trousers!
Author's note. This tale, written in December, 1994, was inspired by a "shaggy dog" joke I once heard whilst propping up a bar in Mojacar village!
Severin Helliwell.(all rights reserved)